| INDIO, California
INDIO, California Former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters closed one of North America's leading music festivals on Sunday with a dazzling laser-and-props show, but the talk of the Southern California desert gathering was Prince, the Saturday headliner.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, now in its ninth year, attempted to reclaim the spotlight from a rash of new U.S. festivals by fielding the enigmatic funk-rocker as a late addition to a line-up that had initially left some fans disappointed.
When Prince took to the stage at a field 130 miles east of Los Angeles, Prince seemed to acknowledge that he had just taken the desert festival to a new level. "Coachella, I am here," he screamed. "You are the coolest place on Earth right now!"
His performance -- for which he was reportedly paid upwards of $5 million -- was announced only two weeks ago, instantly eclipsing original headliners Waters, Portishead and Jack Johnson.
The 49-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer tore through a set that included hits like "1999," "Little Red Corvette" and "Purple Rain," as well as two surprising covers: Radiohead's "Creep" and the Beatles' "Come Together." Supported by a 12-member backup band, Prince roamed the stage soloing on his Fender Telecaster guitar.
"We wanted Prince from the beginning, we didn't have a backup," festival promoter Paul Tollett told Reuters. "We just kept trying and finally it came through. He's in his own world. When he's ready, he's ready."
Tollett, who made a name for Coachella partly by engineering the reunions of bands like Rage Against the Machine and the Pixies, defended the original line-up with laid-back singer/songwriter Johnson, morose trip-hop group Portishead and Waters as headliners.
"I'm looking for fresh talent that doesn't play every festival, but it's hard because there are a lot of festivals in America now," he said. "Portishead and The Verve haven't played in America in years, we had The Breeders ... There's some stuff in there."
When Coachella started out in 1999, inspired by long-running European festivals such as Denmark's Roskilde and Britain's Glastonbury, it didn't have much competition. But now it has to vie for talent with Tennessee's Bonnaroo featuring Pearl Jam and Metallica in June, and Denver's Mile High Festival, which has Dave Matthews as headliner in July.
Johnson himself is playing Bonnaroo, San Francisco's inaugural Outside Lands, and New Jersey's All Points West, which is being put together in August by Coachella's promoters.
Last year's Coachella had already been sold out by February, but this year the box office stayed open. Organizers did not yet have sales figures, but police estimated that more than 50,000 people attended daily. Fans came from all over the United States and abroad, including several Britons wearing Native American costumes and an estimated 1,000 fans who traveled from Mexico to see the more than 125 bands on two outdoor stages and three tents in the punishing desert heat. In an effort to attract more fans from south of the border, festival organizers announced this year's lineup at a press conference in Mexico City.
Other Coachella acts included Vampire Weekend, Death Cab for Cutie, Kraftwerk and Sri Lankan-born rapper MIA, who packed an overflowing crowd in an impossibly hot tent on Saturday. The tents drew large crowds for several other acts, including British electropop singer Alison Goldfrapp and Brooklyn psychedelic rockers MGMT. System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian brought his message of social awareness to the second outdoor stage, playing songs off his solo record.
Waters gave Prince a run for his money on Sunday, despite performing to a considerably thinner crowd. He played Pink Floyd's classic album "Dark Side of the Moon" in its entirety, and also performed selections from "The Wall," "Wish You Were Here" and "Animals." Powerful pyrotechnics warmed up the evening while lasers crisscrossed the sky, and pre-recorded effects blasted from surround-sound speakers.
At one point, an inflatable pig hovered over the crowd. Graffiti on its side said "fear builds walls" while its belly had a check mark next to the word "Obama." It was unclear whether that was meant as an endorsement in the U.S. presidential election.
(Editing by Dean Goodman)
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